We must not stand idly by

We must not stand idly by

Rabbi emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge, Reform

The tragic headlines about a gunman entering the Garden State Plaza, terrorizing hundreds of people, and taking his own life on November 4, Election Day eve in New Jersey, reminded me of the ongoing crimes of silence that we the people continue to commit.

Until there is real gun control, and until we treat mental illness and addiction as the diseases they are, attacks such as the one last week, just two miles from my home, and the attacks such as the one at the Los Angeles airport the week before, will continue to foment fear, anger, and frustration in our society. Knowing that shooters are loose in public places, firing powerful weapons, makes me and most average Americans feel powerless.

Yet in this post 9/11 world, as I write this op-ed on November 10, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, I find myself compelled to affirm that we are only powerless if we stand idly by and excuse our silence in the face of a rising incidence of gun violence. I therefore applaud the efforts of my colleagues Rabbi Jordan Millstein and Rabbi Joel Mosbacher. They are taking the lead in our community, building a strong interfaith coalition aimed at demanding that our newly re-elected governor and legislature take action to strengthen gun control laws and their enforcement in our state.

However, gun control is only half of the story of the tragedy at the Garden State Plaza and its parallels around our nation. The front page story in the Record on November points out that mental illness and addiction are neglected areas in American healthcare.

My brother, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, is an alcoholic who will celebrate 23 years of sobriety next month. Today he and his wife, Harriet Rossetto, co-lead Beit Tshuvah, a residential treatment center in Los Angeles that uses Judaism, 12-step programs, and psychotherapy to treat addictions. In her new book, “Sacred Houskeeping,” Harriet details how Jewish communal support let Beit Tshuvah grow in 26 years from a homeless shelter for Jews coming out of jail to a 200-bed residential treatment center with a very substantial waiting list.

When I first came to our community in 1988, my brother was in jail. I never spoke or wrote about him. Like so many of us, I was embarrassed by his actions and angered by his inability to just get himself straight. Today, I know that my sin was the sin of silence. Mark’s recovery and the holy work to which he and his wife have dedicated their lives stand as an example that if we do not stand idly by, we the people, working together, can help those who suffer from the diseases of addiction and mental illness.

The first step in doing so is to acknowledge that it is similar to many chronic physical diseases in that treatment might not cure the condition, but it certainly can help create a state of remission.

But treating drug and alcohol disease and mental illness is a low priority in our society. The available and affordable avenues of treatment fail to meet the needs. In Bergen County, the only in-patient psychiatric treatment center for adolescents with fewer than 20 beds is at Bergen Regional Medical Center. That is also the county’s only designated detoxification facility, and its 54 beds always are full.

We the people can do better.

Therefore I ask all of you to join me in calling upon our newly elected state and local officials to lead the way by enacting and enforcing stricter gun control laws and by making treatment for addiction and mental diseases both more available and more acceptable in our society.

Let us all recognize that on November 4, Richard Shoop, the mall shooter, was not only a perpetrator of violence but also a victim of our societal neglect.